New study: Men work as much as women do.

The search for better economic policy.
April 16 2007 12:54 PM

Couch Entitlement

Surprise—men do just as much work as women do.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

Everyone from economists and sociologists to Oprah knows that women work more than men. Their longer combined hours, at the home and at the office, stop men from taking afternoon naps on the couch and cause fights that end with men spending nights on the couch. And yet according to new study, those longer hours are a myth, because it's just not true that women carry a heavier load.

Three economists, Michael Burda of Humboldt University in Berlin, Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas, and Philippe Weil of the Free University of Brussels have analyzed data from surveys in 25 countries that ask people how they spend their time. Some of the countries are rich, like the United States and Germany, some are poor, like Benin and Madagascar, and some are in the middle, like Hungary, Mexico, and Slovenia. The people surveyed were asked to fill in diaries indicating how they spend each segment of their day.

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The 24 hours we all have each day can be divided into four broad activities: "market work" that is, work for pay, typically outside the house; "homework," including housework and child care; "tertiary time," including sleep, eating, and other biological necessities that people can do only for themselves; and the time left over, which is leisure. Leisure is not essential to survival, but we like it.

Throughout the world, men spend more time on market work, while women spend more time on homework. In the United States and other rich countries, men average 5.2 hours of market work a day and 2.7 hours of homework each day, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of homework per day. Adding these up, men work an average of 7.9 hours per day, while women work an average of—drum roll, please—7.9 hours per day. This is the first major finding of the new study. Whatever you may have heard on The View, when these economists accounted for market work and homework, men and women spent about the same amount of time each day working. The averages sound low because they include weekends and are based on a sample of adults that included stay-at-home parents as well as working ones, and other adults.

In Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, men actually work more than women, although the differences are small. In Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom, women work slightly more, though less than 5 percent. Among rich countries, the largest differences emerge in Italy, where women work eight hours while men work only 6.5, and in France, where women work 7.2 hours and men 6.6.

A couple of caveats to all this newfound equality. First, many knowledgeable people believe that women work more. In a survey by the authors of this study, 54 percent of economists and 62 percent of economics students thought that women work more than men, as did more than 70 percent of sociologists. And while the gender equal-work phenomenon has been noted before, "it has been swamped by claims in widely circulated sociological studies … that women's total work significantly exceeds men's," as the authors put it. Although men in many rich countries do not work less than women, they do enjoy about 20 to 30 minutes more leisure per day (over an hour more in Italy) because they spend less time on sleep and other biological necessities.  Men spend almost all of this additional leisure time watching television.

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